Here’s some good advice for new and would-be journalists: launch your own Web site (or blog) and do it now. The suggestion comes from Larry Atkins, who teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University just outside Philadelphia. In a piece at the newly revived Online Journalism Review, Atkins argues that building a Web site should be a prerequisite for college graduation.
At the beginning of each semester, I’m surprised at the small number of students who have developed their own professional-style websites. Everyone is on Facebook or MySpace, but only five or so of the approximately 400 students that I’ve taught over the last five years had their own website, which featured their writing samples, articles, or other work. I now emphasize to all my students that developing their own professional website while in college can be an effective marketing tool and a great way to get internships, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, exposure, and extra cash.
Most sites aren’t likely to become as successful as the examples Atkins cites, including BarelyPolitical.com that Leah Kauffman helped launch as a junior at Temple, and the popular NFL draft site, WalterFootball.com, that Walter Cherepinsky created when he was a senior in high school. But that shouldn’t discourage you from getting in the game.
Think of your blog or Web site as a professional endeavor, not another place to post personal updates (“At store buying more beer”) or potentially embarrassing party pictures. If you must put those online, save them for your social network pages, just remember that future employers may eventually see them. Use your site or blog to build an online resume and show off your journalism skills. “Having your own blog is media career insurance,” says Amy Gahran, editor of Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.
Here’s a quick peek at Gahran’s tips for starting your own blog:
- Get a good domain name. Pick something that’s easy to spell and remember, and that preferably ends in .com, .org, or .net.
- Map your domain to your site, so every page on your site bears your domain.
- Stick with your domain. The longer you blog at the same domain, the higher you will probably rank [on search engines].
- Don’t work for anyone who won’t let you keep blogging. Ever. It’s just not worth it.
- Join the conversation, and link back to yourself. Inbound links from other sites (even in comments you make) are a key ingredient of Google Juice.
- Keep your blog going even if you also blog elsewhere.
Gahran makes one other important point: The sooner you get started, the better, because search engines (especially Google) tend to give sites that have been around a while a higher rank. So what are you waiting for?